Acupuncture on the Battlefield

I’m not going to spend a lot of time describing acupuncture. It’s been pretty well proven to be a useless treatment for everything. Stephen Barrett at Quackwatch and Steve Novella at Science Based Medicine document, with references, why it doesn’t work.

However, proof is irrelevant to the US Military.  They have trained at least 50 medics in acupuncture techniques, and are currently using it to treat concussions.

The U.S. military is applying an ancient Chinese healing technique to the top modern battlefield injury for American soldiers, with results that doctors here say are “off the charts.”

Of course, TCM is totally worthless, as a diagnostic or treatment tool. The article goes on to say:

“Battlefield acupuncture,” developed by Air Force physician Col. Richard Niemtzow, is helping heal soldiers with concussions so they can return more quickly to the front lines.

At Camp Leatherneck, an enormous Marine Corps base in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a military doctor’s consulting room has dim little Christmas lights arranged across the ceiling and new age music playing.

Commander Keith Stuessi asks his patients to relax in his darkened chamber and then gently inserts hair-thin needles into special points on their body: between the eyebrows, in the ear lobe, on the top of the head, into the webbed part of the hand between the thumb and fingers, and on top of the feet between the first and second metatarsal. The needles may look gruesome but don’t hurt.

Stuessi, a naval doctor whose rank is equivalent to Lieutenant Colonel, treats concussions, also known as mild brain trauma.

“I’m seeing pretty incredible results,” said Stuessi, who’s based at the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton, near San Diego, and is originally from Wales, Wis. “In my heart I think this will, down the road, become one of the standards of care.”

Acupuncture has been proven many times to be no more effective than  placebo, and it is considered unethical for a medical practitioner to prescribe a placebo as a treatment. While this practice is under discussion in the medical community, it is  along way from being included in any ‘standard of care’.

Gunnery Sgt. Williams, a 36-year-old Marine from Brunswick County, N.C., who said he wouldn’t give his first name out of superstition, was 10 days in from a concussion he received in Musa Qala, in the north of Helmand, when he arrived in Stuessi’s office.

Williams was knocked unconscious for about 10 seconds, and sustained a Grade III concussion, the most severe, though he was otherwise unhurt. Others realized something was wrong when he started talking nonsense, and he was airlifted to a hospital.

The next day, Williams had all the symptoms of concussion: a severe headache, poor balance, dizziness and excess sensitivity to light. Worse, he couldn’t sleep. On the fourth day after the incident, the most grueling day for the headache, Stuessi suggested he try acupuncture.

“I didn’t know much about acupuncture, but I was willing to try anything to get back (to duty),” Williams said. “That night, I slept for about 10 hours, and when I woke, the headache wasn’t as severe.”

We’ve established that we have a superstitious man recovering from an injury that usually heals itself over time, hardly a rousing endorsement. Again that doesn’t matter.

Karen J. Sherman, an NIH-funded acupuncture researcher with the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle who attended the meeting, said that despite skepticism, the military remains interested.

“There’s no doubt about it,” Sherman said. “The addition of acupuncture to usual care seems to be beneficial, at least in the short term,” from six to 12 months after treatment.

Her concept of doubt is much different than the researchers who have used carefully controlled studies to determine the ineffectiveness of acupuncture.

The reporter doesn’t come across as doing very much background work, as there is only a single sceptical sentence in the two page article.

Scientific studies on acupuncture haven’t been able to prove its effectiveness.

The rest of the article is a fawning acceptance of whatever Stuessi says.

Florence Nightingale laid the foundation of modern nursing from her experience in the Crimean War. During the Spanish civil war, Norman Bethune developed the first mobile blood bank. Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin saved countless soldiers in WWII. The list of medical advances and discoveries during wartime is very long.

Things seem to be moving backwards in the 21st century.

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3 Responses to Acupuncture on the Battlefield

  1. Lance says:

    Next time you visit your GP ask him if he has ever suggested acupuncture. I believe he has.

  2. Lance says:

    My comment was more a reflection on your GP. I agree with you.

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